At Elegance Printing, Hong Kong, Edward Stokes examines a wet proof for Lee Fook Chee’s Hong Kong.


Taking forward images from the historical photographs, whether negatives or prints, to where they are ready to print requires multiple steps.

In book imaging, if all is done well, each step adds quality to the preceding stage. In this, publishers today benefit much from the extraordinary power of modern scanning and imaging equipment, and digital software. Images that to the naked may seem unable to deliver printed quality can be worked up, into technically and aesthetically strong reproductions. (For photo enhancement the Foundation takes the common sense view that photographers always exploit the best technologies of their day. Thus, digitally improving historical photos would meet the wishes of their original creators.)

In digital imaging, the Foundation benefits from a Hong Kong partner of longstanding commitment and great expertise, Color Six Laboratories Limited – with Johnny Lee and Simon Lo.

Originals can be scanned using various methods, whether offset print or digital print orientated. But though the methods differ, the core imaging aims are much the same: to produce sharp, clear images – with balanced tones, ‘contrast’ and ‘density’. The evidence is in the proofing. After easier – and far cheaper – digital proofing (making digital test prints of the book photos), the final stage before book printing is wet proofing, as seen here. Using the book’s expected offset presses or sometimes special proofing presses, and critically printing on the previously chosen book paper (thus ensuring correct density and contrast in the book reproductions), wet proofing (named for the ‘wet’ ink that is used) shows the reproductions that the actual book printing will seek to replicate.

Critiquing wet proofs is the final chance to adjust and fine tune the digital image files. Once ‘on press’, and actually printing a book, only very marginal visual improvements can be made.